Embracing the Terror in Aliens & Asteroids

One of the things that has come up time and again is the “horror” or “terror” aspect of Aliens & Asteroids, and yet it’s something we’ve really just glossed over in those discussions. Well, I want to chat about that a bit.

Though I am not a military person, I’ve seen glimpses of the lasting effect combat can have on family members and seen just a few of the ripples that come as a result. While in college, I played a few sessions of Call of Cthulhu, which used a mechanic for tracking “Sanity.” And the computer game X-COM 2 really solidified those two concepts in my mind when I saw (repeatedly) my squad members on screen panic and then try to flee or fight when things went seriously wrong fighting aliens on the battlefield.

As a result, the Morale attribute in Aliens & Asteroids is something that I really wanted to bring into play. That idea that certain events could happen in combat that would leave a lasting effect and throw that character into a “Fight or Flight” mode, then require some TLC or therapy afterwards to work through really  needed to come into the picture. Thus the “Save vs. Morale” was born.

I’ll give you an example from the playtest session we had last night. Our team of seasoned Dominion Space Forces was facing battle with a group of aliens in a damp, dark hole. And as they were doing combat with one member of the Dread, a second Dread came up behind them, and this was no ordinary alien. This thing was a beast: a Queen coming to protect an important member of her hive.

Queens are 3x the size of their nearest Dread counterparts, making them absolutely enormous. These things are about the same size as a full-sized pick-up truck, possibly larger.

When the two space marines turned to face this new foe, hearing it moving in the water behind them, we rolled a Save vs. Morale for each of them.

Essentially this works the same as every other roll in A&A — roll a d20 and try to get the target (in this case, the Morale attribute score) or fewer. Both of them failed. And they began running. One of them had the “Sprinter” trait, so he was really fast and passed the rest of the group fighting further up the tunnel, which got the attention of two other characters, causing a bit of a chain reaction.

After the battle was over, any character who failed a Save vs Morale took a d6 worth of Morale “damage” that they can work to heal during their downtime.

Turns out I didn’t quite follow the rules as written, so for tonight we’ll use this variation, which is what I’ve revised the rules to read:

Save vs. Morale

Certain conditions arise in battle when characters must make a Save vs. Morale to keep their cool.

  • Seeing a party member go down in combat.
  • Experiencing a situation that simply is beyond what a mortal mind can bear.

When this happens, you must make a Save vs. Morale. Like other checks in the game, you try to roll at or under your character’s current Morale.

  • If you fail, your Morale goes down by d6 points, which makes the next save that much more difficult.
  • If you succeed, you stop the “slide” and can continue the battle.
  • Morale may not drop below a 1.

If you fail or your Morale score drops to a 1 or below, you roll a d6 to determine how you react.

  • 1-2 – you go catatonic and cannot move until a party member spends an action to “snap you out of it.”
  • 3-4 – you go into a frenzy to escape the battle. Any enemy or ally you encounter along the quickest path to a perceived “safe” zone will be attacked along the way.
  • 5-6 – you go into fight mode and attack the first target you see (enemy or ally) with the full fury of whatever you can bring to bear.

Each round the PC is still panicked, they get a Save vs. Morale. If they should roll a 1 before they get to their “safe place,” they recover their wits, regain d6 points of Morale, and can determine their next course of action with a clearer head.


We may not need these rules tonight, but I wanted to clarify them a bit while I had them fresh in my mind.


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